Lenten Blog 2018
March 31, 2018
First off, thank you for spending part of your Lent with. I hope I was able to raise a few question for you to ponder, and I hope your reflection was helpful to your spiritual journey.
As I suggested two days ago, I am using these final three posts for a bit of political reflection. I am sorry that the very day I expressed my distaste for the way legislators treat teachers, the Kentucky legislators decided that teachers and other government employees would pay for the legislators thievery from the educators pension fund. Yesterday I expressed my opposition to the death penalty for religious reasons.
For our last day’s reflection, I want to consider the role silence plays in the political process. Few of us expend energy to be engaged in the political process. It seems to take a tragedy or even multiple tragedies to bring us to the place of speaking out. Even then, the silence of many is more defending than the voices of the few.
How many school shootings will it take for us to give voice to sensible gun control. I am not advocating for the elimination of guns. I believe hunters should have the right to hunt. I believe that if a person desires a gun for protection, they should be able to do so. But I can not come up with a single reason for the use of an automatic weapon of war either to hunt or for protection. I think this is the position of the majority of Americans. If I am correct, why the silence?
Silence allows for the status quo. Silence is the friend of inaction. Silence is the enemy of democracy and the power of authoritarianism. Silence stifles conversation. Without conversation there can be no change. Or conversation may lead to the affirmation of continuing the status quo. But silence is the breeding ground of bullies and braggarts.
I pray your Easter is happy and holy and your life filled with joy and peace.
Friday, March 30, 2018 – Good Friday
It is impossible for me to not think about death on this day. And it’s not pain free. The death of any Innocent is a cause for pain and remorse. In the story of the life of Jesus, his death is the tragic ending of an inspirational life. When I reflect on his teachings, his parables, his embrace of those commonly outside the justice system of his day, and his calls to love our neighbors, I am befuddled by his impact then and through out the intervening years.
Who would follow such a tragic figure? One whose teachings run counter to that which we hold dear. Love your enemy. Pray for those who hate you. Be merciful. Be kind. Give your shirt too. Blessed are the poor. Woe to you who are rich and respected. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. You who are without sin, cast the first stone.
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Nope, not one of his.
For centuries, justice has been seen as the product of executions. Killers. Murderers. Political enemies. Spies. Women caught in adultery. Drug distributers. But isn’t it interesting, that in the Biblical story of the first murder (over how best to worship God), the killer is set free?
When Jesus is involved in the carrying out of the death penalty, he doesn’t argue that the accused is innocent. He doesn’t even question the validity of the broken law. He puts the onus on the society, the culture that demands deathly retribution. If you are without sin, go ahead, pick up a stone…pull the switch….administer the drug…cut off the head…drop the blade on the guillotine…hang em high.
Who among us today is without sin? Who among us has the moral purity to declare that another’s life is meaningless, useless, less valuable than our own?
Many people say that waterboarding is torture. I agree. But how is it more torturous than execution? How is it that we as a justice seeking and moral society dane to deprive an individual of life? When did we become gods?
We laugh when we are reminded that if we practiced an eye for and eye and tooth for tooth, we’d all be walking around blind and toothless. Still, that is exactly what we do when we take someone’s life away from them. Yes, they may have done something horrible. But the death penalty is not a deterrent, and even if it was, it I believe it would be wrong.
Jesus may be best remembered for challenging us to do to others what we would have them do to us. See what I mean. No wonder they executed him!
Thursday, March 29, 2018 – Maundy Thursday
I come from a family that values education. My parents were high school graduates, but they made it a goal that their children would all have a college education. To do so, they paid most of the costs for their four children to graduate from college. But it didn’t stop there. Both of my sisters have Master Degrees. My brother is close enough to a Masters that a simple sneeze might get him over the line. My brother in law has a Master Degree and my sister in law is a Registered Nurse. I have two nieces and one nephew. All three of them are on the road to attaining PhDs or similar degrees. One has made it already. The other two are ABD. Those of you have been in my office know that I have a veritable slew of diplomas adorning one wall. My parent’s dream has certainly come true.
I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t hope that their children will get a quality education. Most expect that to include college. Perhaps this is strictly a middle class and above dream? There are some who perhaps find it impossible to dream so “big.”
Why is it then, that when our elected officials, both at the national and state level, lack the courage to raise appropriate funding, turn to education as the first line item to cut? The lack of courage is disappointing. But passing of a budget on the backs of our children and youth is deplorable!
We have just today and two more days in this Lenten journey. Forgive me if I use these last three days to reflect on how some of our legislative decisions seem disingenuous and/or destructive.
“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Whether those words were ever spoken or written by Thomas Jefferson is unclear, but the sentiment is profoundly accurate – nothing is more important to the continuation of our republic than education our children.
Education is neither a Christian thing nor a Moslem thing. It’s not an Atheist thing or a None thing. It is an Everyone thing.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…gratefully.” (Diana Butler Bass quoting Maya Angelou.)
Much of Lent is spent reflecting on the past: seeking understanding and clarity, perhaps hoping for forgiveness. It is the historical purpose of these forty days. The logic behind it, may be that if we are to be ready for new lifeto burst forth from the arms of death, we must have buried those things which stand in the way of transformation.
I wonder, what would Lent be like if we spent our time looking forward: dreaming of the possibilities that with Divine guidance might come into fruition? Rather than a time of turning inward, it would transition into a time of looking outward. It may be better preparation for the explosion of hope promised in the wonder of Easter?
But, perhaps if Lent were about being present in the moment, it would provide meaning both for today and for tomorrow? It could foster a way of living that is intentional and transformational. It could open our eyes to the Grace that is everywhere in abundance. I wonder, would it balance the looking back forgivingly and the looking ahead prayerfully, with the living in the moment gratefully/gracefully? If that were so, the practices of Lent would be embedded in our daily lives in such a way as to make every moment an empty tomb experience.
Tuesday, March 27. 2018
Why is it, that some colleges and universities’ big ticket athletic teams are aways hanging around when it’s championship season, and some are never there when the “nets are being cut down?” Big ticket, in this case, refers to football and basketball. I know that at some schools, there are other priorities, like hockey or softball, but most of the time, those sports are supported by the two big money makers.
Even though the school I choose to follow has won some national championships in recent years, they are never around when the football and basketball champions are being crowned. They boast some football championships, but not since the 1940’s. I don’t know if they have ever won a hoops title.
Still, hope springs eternal.
So, why the boo hooing? Yesterday we did a little reflection on disappointment. What happens when disappointment becomes permanent discouragement? Isn’t discouragement a more serious ailment than disappointment?
In my way of seeing things, my school will never ever win a big ticket national championship. I’ve given up that dream. I’m not even convinced that there is a possibility that they will ever win a conference title. My discouragement doesn’t mean I don’t continue to follow the team I love, but it does mean I no longer put any emotional currency on the line. I am not invested. I am discouraged.
My fear is that there are many of us who have become discouraged by religion. What I mean is, many of us are discouraged about the church. We can’t imagine anything positive will emanate from our religious institutions, so we find no reason to be invested.
Perhaps instead of Lent we need something more upbeat and happy? I mean, who wants to invest in forty days of reflection? Forty days of fasting? Forty days of beating ourselves up?
Fortunately, churches are not a bout winning and losing. Our spiritual lives are not about winning championships. We are not going to win any gold medals and if there are to be stars in our crowns, it wont be anytime soon. But most importantly, the reason to not get discouraged, is that we are not in charge. And that is something to cheer about!
Monday, March 26, 2018
In one of my earlier posts, I indicated that I thought loneliness maybe the greatest issue in personal lives today. I still think that, but I also think disappointment is a real issue as well.
Disappointment is such a multifaceted feeling (if feeling is the proper descriptor). We can be be disappointed in things, in people, in ourselves, in sports teams, in the government, in our families, in our jobs, in our churches, in our children, in our friends. Actually, we can be disappointed in almost anything we can name. (I recently expressed disappointment in FaceBook.)
Perhaps the most common cause of disappointment is overly optimistic expectations? We get excited. We get wishful. We anticipate success. We “count our chickens before they hatch.” Then, even if we have partial success we carry around the burden of disappointment.
Often, disappointment leads to isolation. When we disappoint others, they may pull away from us. When we disappoint ourselves, we may withdraw into ourselves. Is there a way to manage disappointment so that it becomes a gateway to positive outcomes, rather than the burial place for failures?
I don’t know about self inflicted disappointment, but I think that this Holy Week provides us an opportunity to remember that disappointment can be dealt with in healthier ways. Even when betrayal and denial were anticipated and realized, the One headed toward the Cross included his betrayer and his denier in his retinue of friends and followers. He could have shunned them, but instead he kept them close – ate and drank with them. Perhaps he hoped that they would resist the temptations before them? Perhaps he hoped that by making them aware of what they were about to face they would find the fortitude to overcome their baser instincts. Even when they failed, he didn’t lose hope.
Could it be that hope is the antidote for disappointment?
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. Sometime, I know not when, it was decided that it should be Palm/Passion Sunday. I once argued, naively, with the Pastor of the Church I was serving as Music Director, that there was no such thing as Palm/Passion Sunday. I thought it was psychologically and spiritually incongruous with the entire premise of Holy Week. I still do.
Firstly, this grouping deprives Palm Sunday of any importance. That story is relegated to being little more than an interesting introduction to the important stuff. I think that the story we refer to as Palm Sunday, is the critical moment when Jesus’ death is all but guaranteed.
Secondly, the idea of reading the entire Passion Story at the start of the week, gives people license to skip Holy Week and all its pathos and jump to Easter without being immersed in the death of Innocence on a Roman Cross.
If there is one thing we don’t need, it’s a pass. We run from anything ugly and painful. We avoid anything that gives us spiritually dirty hands. But the story of resurrection is meaningless without the betrayal, denial, trial and execution. In essence, we diminish Jesus’ and our humanity. We down play the heart of our faith, that God knows human pain uniquely in this horrific story.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we really don’t deserve Easter if we haven’t faced Good Friday
Friday, March 23, 2018
Now here’s a confession. I can’t think of anything to say! So perhaps I just won’t say much of anything. I’ve been sitting here for ten or fifteen minutes and have not come up with a single worthwhile idea. I thought that maybe if I just started writing that something would come to me, but nope, nothing.
Spent the day bass fishing. I hardly ever fished for bass when living in Minnesota where walleye is king. Here in Kentucky? It’s bass. Smallmouth is the prized breed. I’m not picky. I’ll catch anything that gets caught on one of my hooks.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were fisherman. Nobody ever told us what they fished for. Jesus said they would fish for people, but what about before that? I guess it really doesn’t matter.
It seems like you need specialized equipment for catching different kinds of fish. I have pretty much new equipment. Bass equipment. Special rods. Certain reels. Specific baits. Got to have the correct reel on the specific rod. Apparently, having the wrong reel on your fishing rod means you won’t catch fish. I didn’t even know fish knew which reel matched with which rod and which line matched with which reel and which bait matched with which rod reel and line!
I wonder, did Peter, Andrew, James and John fish for different kinds of people? It seems like Peter fished primarily for “gefilte”and never dreamed he’d fish for anything else. But wait. He did dream about fishing for other fish, I mean people, i.e. Roman officers. You would have thought a Roman officer would be a great catch! Peter? Not so much.
Are there fish you would rather not catch? Are there fish you would like to throw back?
I mean people… I hope not
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It seems we never think about all of the things we take for granted until there is a “disruption in the force.” But when something does occur, say a vehicle won’t start, it doesn’t take long till we begin to ponder all the other things we take for granted.
Much of our expectations are technological. We expect refrigerators will keep food cold. Ovens will warm food up. Water will come out of a faucet. Our smartphones will work no matter where we go. A vehicle will start when we turn a key.
But some of our expectations are interpersonal. We expect our children to call. Grandparents to spoil their grandkids. Employees will show up for work. Spouses will be faithful. Friends will be loyal.
Taking for granted that things will work as designed is not a big issue until they don’t work. Taking others for granted is a bigger deal. A starter on a truck has no feelings that can be hurt. A friendship can be easily broken when taken for granted.
Many of us are prone to taking God for granted as well. We expect God will always be there for us, in the manner that we expect. When things go wrong, it’s easy to play the blame game. It’s easy to get angry with God when illness comes, accidents occur, lives get broken. Somehow, we have been conditioned to expect that only good things happen to good people. We do know better, but are quick to forget.
Only eight days remaining in Lent. How about taking a minute – 60 seconds – each day and simply name things that you are taking for granted. Health. Heat. Air conditioning. Clean clothes. Clean water. Clean air.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
So, what should we do? I have been told that today is #dropFACEBOOK Day. Facebook has been in the news lately. None of it sounds very good. Some of it sounds like conspiracy theory, but some of it is clearly true and troubling.
I am very uncomfortable with the idea that Facebook played a significant role (or any role, for that matter) in the 2016 elections. It adds another layer of anxiety over an electoral system that seems under attack from without and within. And it reminds us that there is really nothing secure once it hits the cyber-waves.
I am struggling with the idea that my use of this format runs counter to a number of my beliefs. I do not want to be associated with covert use of my name and online information, whether it be for the political right or the political left. But, I have enjoyed the benefit of reconnecting with you, my friends.
While I am troubled, I am going to continue on Facebook, for now. This is the best forum that I am aware of for these missives.
What does this have to do with Lent? Well, it is a reminder that life is messy. Things that seem innocent, may not be innocent. Everyday we face ethical decisions. Sometimes we may not even be aware of the possible negative effects of our decisions. It is a reminder that there can be no compartmentalization. All of life intersects with our faith and spiritual aspirations. If we think we can separate our spiritual journeys from the rest of life we are kidding ourselves. In truth, our faith must be the guiding principle in all that we do, otherwise we may have no core from which to draw strength and wisdom.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Does it ever happen to you, that you get engaged in a conversation, where the speaker pretty much echos your own life story without having any idea that it might be your story? Sometimes it happens in a book. Yes, I’ve been reading again. Like I said yesterday, I read a lot.
I am not certain of the reason, but I think most of us think our history is unique, that no one has shared our life experiences. Of course there is an element – small element – that is true, but for the most part, most of us, in our lives, have similar life stories.
There was a time when I thought being raised in a smallish mid-western community was a unique experience. I thought somehow that I had escaped the lures and temptations of the big-city kids. That my history was the idlic American dream. Two parents. Small school where everyone knew everyone ( and everyone’s business). Safe. Friendly. Companionship was more important that competition. Everyone was a Christian, because everyone attended church. Good schools. Obviously, many who grew up in similar communities, shared those same experiences.
When I became an educator in a small public school situated in the heart of the Twin City metropolis, I discovered that the students in my choruses and on my teams were enjoying many of those same same experiences. It debunked the myth that the “bad” things in city life were no where to be found in small town USA. They are ubiquitous (as are the good things).
In other words, I may be unusual, but I am not unique. So, when the author of the book I am reading, shared his spiritual journey, it sounded just like mine. Rather than being surprised. I was grateful. It reaffirmed for me that my sojourn is a shared story. There is comfort in knowing that we don’t struggle alone. There is comfort in knowing that others have shared our failures and our successes. There is comfort in knowing that such shared experience is the very nature of Incarnation. Yes, I know this is not Advent, but Lent is the perfect time to be reminded that not only are we not alone, but that the One who brings wholeness has walked the via Dolorosa before us and is walking it with us now.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Life is easier if one never reads. Life is easier if one never reads anything challenging. Life is easier if one reads only what they feel certain they will agree with. Life is easier if one only reads popular novels.
Life is more difficult if one reads. Life is more difficult if one reads things that are challenging. Life is more difficult if one reads what they know they will likely disagree with. Life is more difficult if one reads anything but popular novels.
Lenten confession. I read an abundance of popular novels. Perhaps I read too many of them? I seldom read anything that I know I will disagree with. I do read things that are challenging. I read a lot.
As I have indicated in other posts, I have been busy during this Lenten season reading books which are challenging. Sometimes I need to read a paragraph three or four times before I get what the author is trying to say. And while I may think that what I am reading is going to reinforce what I already think, inevitably, they force me to think about things in new ways. It is this unexpected challenge that makes the reading worth while.
Today, in two very different readings – one a magazine and one a book – I have been challenged to think of Jesus as a failure. My confession, I have never thought of Jesus as a failure. Truthfully, I don’t think I have ever even imagined such a thing. Whether or not the arguments were compelling or not, the reading forced me to consider something unexpected. Something that is going to stick with me like a sore tooth (Sorry Dr. Valerie!). And unlike a sore tooth which needs to be removed, this is a pain demands that I reject extraction or novocain.
What about you? Have you read something recently that has caused you to put down the book (or whatever), slouched back in your chair, put your hands on your head, shut your eyes and said “WHAT?” If not, there are still eleven days left in Lent. It’s not too late. You’ll be glad you did.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
I’ve been spreading grass seed this morning. It’s a little cool, but the weather wizards are predicting rain this afternoon, so I went ahead. It’s just a few spots that need some help. You see, we have moles. They have been around since we moved. We’ve heard stories about the mole wars fought by the previous owner. So who know how long they have infested this lawn?
It was difficult to find a pest control business willing to enter the fray. My guess? It is a losing battle. But I kept checking and eventually found a local company who specialized, or so I was told, in mole eradication. They were here a couple weeks ago, and either what ever they did helped, or the moles are on vacation.
Do you ever feel like moles are destroying your spiritual life? I do. Just digging under the surface, tunneling, leaving the spiritual soil excessively soft and depositing piles – like acne – leaving an unsightly surface behind.
Sometimes they are jealousy moles, coveting the abilities and successes of others. Sometimes they are forgiveness moles, holding on to grudges and disappointments. Sometimes they are impatient moles, building up over lost minutes and misdirected projects. Sometimes they are procrastination moles, digging around in the same hole, never moving forward until it’s almost too late.
I wish there was an easy method for their eradication. I wish there was a company to call and we could leave it to them. But that is simply wishful thinking. Yes, we can discover help and helpers along the way, but the majority of the work is mine (and yours). When planting grass seed, the soil must be prepared. The weeds must be pulled. And there must be sufficient moisture. Some of the work is ours. Some of the work is God’s.
If we want to bloom at Easter, we need to be prepare during Lent.
Friday, March 16, 2018
We’re watching golf at our house. Yes, I know it is almost criminal not to be watching basketball. But in both games, the ultimate goal is to put(t) the ball in the hole. I was never good at basketball. Played a lot of outdoor pickup games. My job was to hack and block out. I wasn’t supposed to shoot. In spite of my lack of skills, I have many fond memories of playing games above our garage and at Connell’s and Golla’s. Pat and Jim were good players. Luverne had good teams. Very good teams. For a pretty long stretch of time, the Cardinals had a legitimate chance to play in the State Basketball Tournament. I played tuba in the pep band.
I’m not a very good golfer either. I can break 100, but breaking 90 has been lost in history. I haven’t shot a basketball since…well, I don’t know when. I hit a golf ball a few weeks ago. Second round of 2018. If I could putt, I could still break 90. But I shoot a basketball about as well as I putt.
There are many of us, of which I am the chief example, who think we should be better at something than we are. We really enjoy something, and think we should have greater skills, but we refuse to do the things necessary to improve to the point where we are as good as we think. It’s true of my golf game. And it’s true of my spiritual life.
I know I need to spend time, significant time, on the practice green (literally). And I know I need to spend time on my knees (figuratively). I might hit a few puts before going out to play. Just as I will read some scripture before getting up to preach. But in both cases, I could do better.
I bet it’s the same for you. I bet there are things you want to do well but lack the discipline to really excel. It’s another reason I am grateful for Lent. Lent gives me the excuse to do what I should do, need to do, want to do. More than an excuse, Lent gives me a reason. And, it gives me the opportunity to create a habit. Lent offers you a reason as well. I hope, that like me, you will take full advantage of the opportunity.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
“You are what you do, not what you say.” Well, that’s what my most recent fortune cookie said. On the surface, most of us would nod in affirmation, some of us more vigorously than others. But as I thought about it as I drove back to the office, I decided that I didn’t quite agree. It seems to me, that such a sentiment diminishes the importance of words, while elevating the importance of actions.
I’m a big fan of words. Yes, I do think that one’s actions do express one’s true character, but I also think that words are powerful, perhaps even more powerful than actions. If words don’t matter then there really is no reason for negotiations with a place like North Korea (or any other country for that matter). If words don’t matter then there really is no reason to have a marriage ceremony. If words don’t matter then verbal bullying should be allowed without recourse.
It clearly is important that if we are going to “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.” But don’t you get tired of worn out cliches? At what point do they lose their import, not because the words themselves don’t matter, but because they have lost their power through overuse? I guess that is why we should choose our words carefully. First so they are not overused, and second, because they do have power to accomplish good or ill.
The bruises caused by “sticks and stones” (another worn-out cliche), don’t last nearly as long, nor wound nearly as deeply as hateful words. Nor does a pat on the back have the same staying power as a “thank you” note.
I am not even certain that I am arguing for equality between the two, words and actions. I think I am on the side of words. If all of us took words seriously, chose them carefully, spoke them lovingly, it would change the world in a way that no action would ever be able to thwart.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
I don’t understand why/how clothes dryers eat socks. They do, you know, At least every dryer I have ever had/used has eaten a sock or two of mine. I know that there are some who will say I am crazy (which may well be true), but I am more certain about this than many of the others things in my life.
It’s really pretty annoying. I know that when I last wore a particular pair, I had a sock on each foot, and they matched. But when they come back from being washed and dried, there is just one remaining. You know, perhaps it is the washer that eats socks… I never check between putting them in the washer and moving them to the dryer. Perhaps I have been to hasty in blaming the dryer.
This really shouldn’t be such a big deal, I guess. I actually hate wearing socks and go sock-less as soon as the temperature allows. That also should mean that fewer of my socks get eaten. But I wonder, does the dryer eat more because it knows there will be only a few pair in the wash during the summer season?
We are really good at shifting the blame from ourselves to someone or something else. If we can’t get the printer to print, it must be the printer’s fault. If we didn’t get our homework done, it’s the dog’s fault. If we break our Lenten fast, its the pizza’s fault. If their are dirty dishes in the sink, it’s the dish-washer’s fault.
The Storyteller tells us that it all began with a man, a woman and a snake. When confronted with the truth of their actions, the man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the snake and the snake blamed the Creator. Perhaps the blame game is built into our DNA?
Lent offers us the opportunity to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes it’s not all that much fun. I wonder, how are our feelings of low-self-esteem, linked to shifting blame. It seems to me that maturity begins when we learn to accept our failures and short-comings. And maturity (self-worth) grows as we move beyond self-loathing and into self-loving. I know many more people who think too lowly of themselves than think too highly. And Lent reminds us where we can find the strength and grace to turn mismatched socks into something useful.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Gifts are curious things. Sometimes the least expensive gift becomes highly prized. Sometimes the most expensive gift becomes valueless.
I am a terrible gift giver. My fall back position is gift cards. While I never know what someone might enjoy, I might know (or can guess) where they enjoy shopping and eating. I know that for many of us, a gift card is a pretty impersonal and lazy gift, but, It’s better than nothing isn’t it?
I am attempting to view Lent as a gift rather than a duty or obligation. I am not good with duties and worse with obligations. The whole Lenten thing is laden with historic baggage that almost negates the possibility of it being a gift. Yet, I am convinced we would be better served with Lent and gift rather than Lent as a burden.
In today’s American culture, with it’s obsession on dieting, fasting has become the latest rage. Some of the fasts are fed with various “cleansing” liquids. Some of them are simply the elimination of certain foods. Some of them are just fasting completely from food one or two days per week. Science has proven the benefits of fasting – supervised fasting. So the choice of fasting as a weight lose/maintenance program is likely better than any of the other diet programs on the market.
It may be easier to see fasting as a gift, if there were a way to quantify it’s success, like stepping on a scale. But most often, the success of fasting as spiritual practice is not realized until much later. (Here I see fasting as both eliminating something and/or taking on something.) It’s like opening a birthday gift and having to wait months and years to be able to use it (or see the results of using it).
For me, this attempt to view Lent as a gift, is centered in spending more time and energy doing something I really enjoy doing. This! So thank you for helping me by reading and responding. Your encouragement make the gift more highly prized.
Monday, March 12, 2018
The excitement is over. The tower came down. I took about fifteen seconds after setting off the charge for the building to have disappeared into a cloud of dust and a pile of ruble. There were parties and people everywhere, especially wherever you could view the tower as it fell.
I watched on television. I needed to run a couple of other errands and get bank to church. One of the commentators covering the implosion harkened back to the 9/11 and watching the Twin Towers crumble and fall. All of sudden the idea of throwing a party to watch a building be “bombed” didn’t seem like such a good idea. The images of the planes flying into the buildings. The fire and disbelief. People plummeting. It all came back. Yes, I know the Frankfort implosion was a completely different sort of thing, but connections often come from no where, and surprise our sensibilities.
Perhaps it was the commentator’s connection that led me to think about how we find some sort of glee as we watch how the “mighty have fallen.” There is some sort of sinister satisfaction in observing the destruction of those who we have perhaps disliked and are now getting their due (as we see it).
What is it that is in us that produces happiness at another’s implosion? What is that gives us short lived joy when someone’s life is being torn down?
All of sudden Lent has taken a turn. I never considered that I might take some of this Lenten time reflecting on the human condition as it tends to celebrate when human lives are laid bare, opening a window to our inane sordidness. It’s not all that dissimilar to the people watching an Innocent Man hanging on a Roman cross.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
We are a little over half way through the season of Lent. How are you doing? Have you been able to stick with your Lenten promises? Whether taking something on or giving something up, Lent promises the possibility of deepening one’s spiritual life. There is no guarantee that this will actually occur. Like everything else in life, there are risks involved in any plan for change. Some of us are risk takers. Some of us are not…risk takers.
Spiritual growth is very risky business. If one is actually able to have spiritual growth, it means that there will a seismic shift in one’s entire life. Spiritual growth, to be real, will be life transforming. Even a small change will impact every aspect of life. It’s nonnegotiable.
Perhaps that’s why it is so difficult to actually grow spiritually. It’s much easier to just go along with the spiritual status quo. If, as an example, you are successful at adding daily devotions to your daily routine, not only will it change your schedule, leaving less time for everything else, it will change you.
That is really good news. Good news. An integrated life is one worth living. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Body. Mind. Spirit. Equilibrium. Contentment. Peace. Joy. It is what all of us are seeking. It is what we all need.
I hope your Lent is progressing well. If it is, there will be exciting things in store for you. But don’t be discouraged if it is not going as you hoped. God’s eternal promise is to work in all things for good. So remain open. Remain positive. Remain hope filled. Remain faithful.
Friday, March 9, 2018
It seems like tall buildings are often the dramatic symbol by which a place is known. In early biblical time it was the Tower of Babel. In Luverne, and this is a reach, it is the Blue Mound Tower. In Minneapolis, for years it was the Foshey Tower. Then the IDS Tower. In NYC it was the Empire State Building, even though other buildings surpassed it in height. In Frankfort, it’s the Capital Tower.
Sunday, the Capital Tower will be a memory. It’s to be imploded and replaced by yet another state office building. The new building will be fifteen to sixteen floors shorter. One would think there might be community outrage at the building’s demise. The outrage is not focused on the twenty-two story building. It is on the destruction of the Civic Center. Especially that there are no plans to replace it.
An office building is an office building. People come to work and go home. Civic Centers are something very different. People come for graduations. Tournaments. Book sales. Worship services. Concerts. Circuses. Prayer breakfasts. Benefits. Exercise.
There was a time and place when churches were at the center of a towns life. European cathedrals served such a purpose. Yes, they were primarily places for worship, but they were also the city’s gathering place.
Many churches are trying to reclaim that tradition. The church I serve hosts Scouts, AA groups, classes, social ministries’ board meetings, concerts, plays, rehearsals, recitals, civic gatherings, sports teams, meals, social ministries. We are not the only church in Frankfort opening its doors to the community.
It is easy to lose sight of all that churches bring to a community. They are more than places seeking to foster spiritual growth. Yes some of us go to work and go home, but that is not why churches are important.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
I don’t understand technology. It’s not that I am a Luddite. I am not. I use technology as much as the next person. I just don’t understand it. I tried to accomplish one thing today. One thing! I wanted to update an old document. Not old in the language of antiquity. Old in the language of technology. Nearly twenty years old.
All I wanted to do was take this document I created in 2001, and update it to a 2018 version. Nine hours and four computers later, I determined it to be impossible. I was simply unable to open the document in any program, using any computer, except the original.
As smart as these things are, how is it that they can’t talk to each other!?
Doesn’t that sound familiar. No matter how smart our legislators are… No matter how smart our colleagues… No matter how wise our parents… No matter how much we love our life-partner… No matter how much the Creator loves us…
We can’t seem to talk to one another!
And I don’t understand that either. Conversation is not that big of a deal. Words. Gestures. Eye contact. Personal space. Body language. Okay, maybe it is a big deal? I can’t help but wonder if technology has made human conversation more difficult? We have become creatures of technological communication.
We seldom see people face to face. We use non verbal shortcuts like emoji which have no concrete meaning. We have created new languages of truncated words to be used in conversations limited to a certain number of words or characters. We use photos and Bitmoji to express meaning. And then we wonder why we can’t communicate anymore. And I have fully bought in. Yes, I even have a Bitmoji avatar…
I finally got the old document to print. I can’t edit it or change it. So I hope I got it right twenty years ago. But there is not much chance of that
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Yesterday I was once again reminded that we live in a fast-moving visual age. Students – high school students (perhaps more) – have lost their imagining skills. When they read, if they read, they have great difficulty visualizing the characters and scenery. They need to watch the movie, if one has been made, with one eye and read the book with the other. I also was reminded that many newly remodeled or designed churches have taken on the feel and look of a theater. There are concessions stands and multiple television screens in the vast lobby and plush theater seats with cup holders in the worship space. Instead of being given something to color and some Crayons, children are being given “tablets” for the hour or so they spend at church.
There is no criticism intended here, just reporting what I have been told. I never imagined that imagination would ever be on the wane. Mine works all the time – day and night – reading or thinking or watching. I don’t need others to visualize characters and scenery for me. I can do that for myself. But if it is true, that our young people are losing the ability to imagine, then what will the next generation of creativity look like?
Church architects and planners have always focused significant energy on visual impact. The towering vaulted ceilings of many cathedrals are breath-taking. Stained glass windows tell the stories of scripture. Statutes and paintings, fabric and fixtures, and organs with their pipes all seek to fire the worshipper’s imagination. It is no different today, except that now the visuals are electronic: fast-paced ever changing video, light shows and high-powered praise bands, large screen productions.
The question was raised as to whether or not a high ceilinged, stain glassed, pew filled building can have filled pews in today’s world? It’s a good question. An important question. A question that when answered (if ever) may be too late in coming to save the kind of churches I love.
And I wonder, will Lent become a thing of the past? Can a forty-day season be meaningful in a four-second world?
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
From time to time I have moments of clarity. I see things as they really are. Or, I see things as they could be. But most of the time I see things with dingy glasses. Wearing dingy glasses is a bit like wearing sun glasses. They keep us from seeing glare. They keep us from from being blinded. They shade everything so nothing is as it really is. And yes, they protect us too.
Our dingy glasses may be tinted, so that we see everything as colored in a certain manner. Some of us are colored by optimism. Some of are colored by pessimism. Some of us are colored by racism. Some of us are colored by classism. The optimist may see only the best in things. The pessimist may see only the worst. The racist may see everything as an attack on their heritage. The classist may see the wealthy as evil. Or, the classist may see the poor as a drag.
Such dingy glasses are really not beneficial. So how can dingy glasses protect us? Being confronted by the glare of visceral hatred may well breed hatred as a response. Dingy glasses may allow us to see the hatred and respond differently. We may be better able to see the problem more clearly as we take our focus off the emotions and actions. Rather than being consumed in the fire which is hatred, dingy glasses may allow us to see the real issue which is being obscured by the naked eye.
Whether that is true for you or anyone, is up for question, but I’m not certain that I could live with one hundred percent clarity one hundred percent of the time. It is healthy and wise to be able to clearly evaluate our lives and the happenings going on in this world. But I’m not certain I can flourish with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I can handle only so much and then I begin to shut down. And I know this, we can not afford for any of us to shut down.
Lent reminds us that none of us are faultless. None of us are perfect. None of us live without regret. It is the wise person who knows when to clean their glasses and when to let a little dinginess remain.
Monday, March 5, 2018
Does it seem crazy to you? It feels like everything is a bit out of whack. I can’t really explain it. It’s more than the goings on in Washington. It’s more than the goings on in the state capital(s). Religious life is crazy. The sports world is crazy (both professional and amateur). The weather is crazy. I hear folks use the word “chaotic” quite a bit, but I think it’s not so much about chaos and is it about crazy.
I like to write and enjoy putting these posts together, but this Lent has been difficult. It’s a little like being a kid in a candy store, there is just too much to choose from! (And if one consumes too much, one gets sick.)
So, this is crazy from home.
We have been using an Amazon Fire Stick for our television viewing. We’ve employed a couple of different “apps” for our watching enjoyment. One of those apps, the one with the most network connections, has been buffering a lot. A lot! A LOT! It has gotten so bad, that at times it buffers every few seconds. So, we decided to sign up for one of the dish type delivery systems. We thought we had it all figured out. We double checked the channels in which we were interested. So we signed on the bottom line. A two year commitment. Needless to say, we discovered one – ONE – channel that we watch frequently that is not part of the package we purchased. The good news – it’s available. The bad news – it’s $15 per month…
As you might guess, this has played into my craziness. It’s like the last straw of craziness.
Perhaps I should see this as an opportunity – an opportunity to turn off the television altogether. Wouldn’t that make it possible to avoid some, if not all, of the craziness out there? Or, is watching television an escape from all the craziness? I expect you know that this Opsata is going to continue to watch TV, but here’s what I am going to do. No more “talking heads.” Now there’s a Lenten resolution – NO MORE TALKING HEADS! And I think I will do a little more reading. Maybe spend some time in reflection. I might even pray a little. Care to join me?
Saturday, March 3, 2018
There is a wonderful tradition of planting tulips in large round plots in the middle of Capital Parkway in front of the Kentucky Capital building. The grounds crew does a terrific job of timing the bloom, so that they are at their peak for Easter. I’m afraid this year they may be past prime for April 1. The warm winter and early spring have the tulips already well on their way to maturity.
I love tulips. I love the vibrant colors. I love that they trumpet the arrival of spring. I drive the parkway daily and the colorful plumage always puts a smile on my face.
What is it that guarantees a smile for you? Grandchildren? Your favorite sports team? Infants? Your adopted pet? A certain tree or flower? A sibling? Your spouse? Whatever it might be, we need more of it! There are too many frowns around these days. I don’t know that there is one thing to point the finger of blame at or if it is a general feeling of blah? Whatever the cause, we need to spend less time obsessing over it and more time enjoying life’s sweetness.
I think that Lent has the potential of turning smiles into frowns. Historically it has been seen as a time of penitence. Penitence is hardly a reason for smiles. That is unless forgiveness is assured. Friends, forgiveness is assured! There is no reason for fear. No reason for guilt. No reason for shame. Forgiveness is ours for the asking. It isn’t cheap but it is free. Now, that’s a reason to smile.
Friday, March 2, 2018
Many of us have a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. And many of us don’t see things quite so clearly. So to make any one size fits all assertion is certain to fit almost no one. Even the question of murder gets muddy as the famous German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, realized when he came face to face with the insidious evil of Adolph Hitler.
I get a certain guilty pleasure watching and listening to individuals who are absolutely certain they have the corner on truth. It’s fascinating. You know that at some point failure and confusion are waiting around that corner. Life is too complex, too confusing too contradictory to speak unequivocally.
Pete Seeger looked to the Book of Ecclesiastes for the inspiration for one of his most famous songs, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The writer of this ancient wisdom was well aware that there is a time for “every purpose under heaven.” Such knowledge, I think, requires a large dose of humility, a characteristic that is often in short supply.
Our journey with Christ is an upside down inside out walk. Words like meek and humble are understood as powerful words. Words of strength. Words of endurance . Most often when we hear those words used today, we think of weakness. As people of faith, we are at our best when we are living within this power structure of irony. We are most powerful, most strong when we are humble and meek. We are most influential when we are building others up, rather than tearing them down.
A true Lenten resolution is one that focuses on others rather than ourselves.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Okay, I feel like we need to take a breath. Sometimes we need to step away and focus on something less traumatic/dramatic. School violence is a profound and troubling subject. While it is difficult in the current climate of our country to let go of the subject, and it is heart warming to watch the young people go into action, with nonstop exposer it’s yoke can become too heavy.
So, can there be joy during Lent? Strict observance means a congregation doesn’t sing or use “alleluia” until Easter. Strict observance may mean eating fish on Fridays. Strict observance may mean giving up one of your favorite things.
I have never been very strict about anything. Although I am really trying to write every “fast” day during Lent, I am willing to let it go if the writing becomes a burden. Even with the one day off a week on Sundays to celebrate our “little Easters,” that may not be enough to lighten the spiritual load.
So, what would bring you some joy today? Notice I didn’t say what would make you happy today. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a state of being. Happiness can change in an instant. Joy has more staying power. So how can you harness your joy and allow it to lift your spirit and your Lenten journey?
If there is snow on the ground, how about making snow angels or sculpting a snow person? When was the last time you did either of those? If it’s a bit warmer, how about shooting some baskets or grilling dinner? If it’s raining, how about jumping in a puddle or two? If it’s hot, how about turning your lawn sprinkler and running through the spray? Toss a frisbee around? Play hopscotch? Build a sandcastle? Look under a rock? Take some batting practice with a whiffle ball? Color in a coloring book? Do something, anything that you haven’t done in ages, perhaps since you were a child?
Even if you don’t actually do anything like that, at least let those memories lift your spirit.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Happy Birthday Jennifer!
Arrangements have been made for First Christian Church and our Child Development Center, New Horizons staffs, to have active shooter training. When I went to school to become a teacher, we never even talked about fire drills. Seminary? Nada. Who would have thought that we would live in a time when all of us need to be concerned about the possibility of being present when an active shooting is taking place. I am certain that other churches and child development centers have already had training and have plans in place should the unthinkable occur. It’s time for us to join the informed.
I feel certain that churches have more conversations around the topic of sin during Lent than at any other time of the year. Most often, emphasis is placed on the personal nature of sin. Less often, emphasis is placed on systemic sin – sin that is built into the systems which influence our lives.
What do you think could possibly be the systemic sin(s) behind the recent spree of school shootings? How has our culture nurtured the insanity (my word, not a psychological diagnosis) which has bred young white males into bringing killing machines into schools and opening fire? Yes, there is certainly personal sin going on, but somehow, I don’t believe we can put all the blame on the shooters. Right now the NRA is being excoriated. No question, they deserve some consideration. Legislators, governors and the President are also under the microscope. But what about us, don’t we bear some of this burden? Violence is ubiquitous. We watch it on television. We play violent video games. We enjoy playing and watching violent sports. We have guns in our homes. We watch “news” programs which go on and on infinitum each time there is another massacre, so much so that we risk becoming inure.
Since church attendance is on the decline. Since more and more people consider themselves “nones.” Since schools are not in the business of morals development. Who, pray tell, is weaving the moral fabric of our culture? Yes, I am certain that many parents work diligently to raise children with a strong sense of morality, but they need help. It must not be a one or two person job. And, it takes more than a village. All of us, and I do mean all of, must be at work in the moral fields of our nation – the world. If some of sit on the sidelines, never entering the game, we will continue to lose. And this is no game.
Monday, February 26, 2018
As I walked into work today I was greeted by one of our Child Development teachers saying, “It’s a fabulous Monday!” I was taken aback. When I said “good morning” and asked how she was, I never expected her to say “fabulous.” Good – sure. Great – maybe? Fabulous – never!
I guess I can accept that she is fabulous today, but I’m not certain that any Monday can be fabulous. Good – not sure. Great – not really. Fabulous – never! Monday is back to work day for many of us. The weekend has ended. The work week begun. Wednesday may be “hump day.” Friday may be “TGIF.” But Monday…
As I greeted people prior to the start of one of our worship service yesterday, one individual said, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” So I responded. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And he replied, “Let’s not get into that rejoicing thing. Being glad is good enough.” I was momentarily stunned.
Although it is sad, I think it is true, that when we share greetings, most of us really are not interested in how they are or what kind of day they are having. We are just wanting to appear friendly without being friends. There must be an unwritten rule book about greetings. The primary rule being, respond generically and quickly move on. So when someone breaks that rule, we aren’t sure what to make of it, nor how to respond. I mean, I didn’t want to engage in a conversation about the difference between rejoicing and being glad, nor about what made for a fabulous Monday.
One of the “spiritual” things that I am working on is being present in each and every moment. Trying to be mindful to events and interactions. I have come to believe that life is more about little things than big ones. That the miraculousness of life is found in minuscule moments rather than large events. Obviously, I am not doing very well. I missed two golden opportunities and they can never be replicated.
I wonder what the next missed moment will be? I’m sure there will be one. How about you? Have you missed something today? Have you cracked open the door to a potential meaningful conversation with no intention of throwing he door wide open? If we are going to offer a greeting, to recognize that there is person in our presence, wouldn’t it be good to be willing to actually strike up a conversation?
While we may have more connected lives than at any time in history, with social media, face to face conversations while separated by miles and non-stop texting, I think there is more loneliness today than ever before. Some of our loneliness is likely the result of our fractured society. Some of loneliness may be there result of work that never ends. And some of our loneliness is the result of lack of consciousness. With heads buried in work or a smart phone, we simply are not conscious of what is going on around us. The more we miss out, the more we miss being connected.
Once again, Lent can serve as time to begin to practice consciousness. But it will only happen if we are intentional. And even then, there will be times when we fall short. Still, it might turn a miserable Monday into a fabulous one.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
I am not really writing this on the above date. I am a day late. So, while this is not a “fast day”, I want to make up for not writing yesterday.
What aspect of your spiritual life gives you the most difficulty? For me, it is consistency. It is the daily struggle to make time for spiritual feeding. I’m pretty certain that is why I didn’t get to writing yesterday. It was a busy day, but there was plenty of time, I just failed to appropriate it effectively.
Not enough time is the most common excuse we make for almost everything. Not enough time to read. To write. To talk. To play. To eat healthy. To workout. To pray. To volunteer. To well…anything. It is of course not true. Even on our busiest days we are not that busy. The excuse is time but the reason is lack of commitment.
I’d like to be a better golfer. I love to play. We plan vacations to places we can play. When I get out there, I want to play well. Hit the driver straight. Have better touch around the green and on the green. But I never practice. It’s way too easy to say I don’t have time to hit the driving range or the practice green. But I know I do. I just lack the commitment.
And I’d like my spiritual life to be more profound. It’s important to me. It’s important to my work. I love to read, but too easily give into the lure to read recreationally rather than spiritually. I enjoy the investigation into the makings of a deeper spiritual life, but not enough to turn investigation into action. I believe in prayer, but find it difficult to actually pray. I like to write, but give in to most any excuse to procrastinate.
Time is not the problem. I am. Time is not the problem. You are. Let’s be honest for a minute. One of two things is happening. Either we are not really interested in a more profound faith, or we are too lazy to do what is necessary.
Lent is the perfect remedy, if we really are serious. It’s not so long as to be intimidating. It has regular space to relax and take a day off. No one will think you are crazy if you say you are doing something for Lent. And it is long enough to turn practice in to routine, to create a holy habit.
So, as the old coach in me would say, “How much do you want it!”
Friday, February 23, 2018
Listening to sports talk radio this morning one gets the impression that what we have always thought about big time college athletics is true and it’s no big deal. Rules are being broken. Money is being paid. Coaches and companies collude to hide perks. Agents are busy. And it’s been going on for decades, so what’s the big deal.
I guess I have been one of those who have thought there was a good deal of graft in college football and basketball, but I hoped I was wrong, or at least hoped my favorite school was not involved. I believed the myth that a level playing field was not only possible, but practiced. How is that even possible with the amount of money involved?
It’s interesting that of all the multiple “sins” Jesus could have focused on, it is money that is at the top of the list. Money! There is never enough. No matter how much one has, the desire for more is always there, nagging in the background. Money drives sports. Money drives the players. Money drives the agents. Money drives the equipment companies. Money drives the facility demands. Money drive the broadcasts. Money drives the fans.
Corporate greed is hardly different than individual greed. Greed is greed. And the abuse of money is a big deal. It does matter. But I imagine the sports talk hosts are right, the laying bare of corruption will not have any effect on the NCAA Basketball Tournament viewership.
It would be easy to add the game of politics into this abuse of money missive, but frankly, I have grown pretty weary of politics .
It makes a difference. If we succeed by breaking the rules, it matters. If we fail while breaking the rules, it matters. If the rules are created to benefit some while denying others opportunity, it matters. And it’s money that is the root.
I have suggested before, that we express our displeasure by using our remote controls. I know we won’t. I know I won’t. But I wish I would.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
There is not much that we can not accomplish if we apply ourselves. Being human is a blessing. Being able to analyze, to think critically, to prognosticate, to reflect, to respond are just some of the characteristics that separate humans from the rest of the animal world. The Psalmist proposes that we are “just a little lower than the angels.”
I’ve never been really certain about angels. The figures with white robes and wings have never seemed real. But humans and our abilities, I have never doubted either of these. But I am not a “humanist.” The idea that eventually humans will foster a just, equitable and peaceful world is just not born out by history. Too often, wonderful creative ideas have been turned into weapons of war and destruction rather than instruments of peace and prosperity. Too often, pride, ego and individualism have ripped asunder the fabric of coexistence.
I think we are really good with things. Imagining them. Creating them. Producing them. Marketing them. What we are not good at is working for the highest common good. Thinking imaginatively. Imagining peacefully. Peaceably interacting. Interacting with humility. Humbly acquiescing. Protecting the earth. All for the sake of others.
In other words, selfishness is more innate than selflessness.
Lent is often viewed as a time of fasting, of giving something up, not for us, but for our Creator. Somehow we imagine that giving up chocolate or pizza, which makes us miserable (and miserable to be around), will make God want to be around us more – love us more.
I wonder, what could we give up that would make the world more safe? Foster peace? Bring healing? Strengthen security? Reduce violence? Empower generosity? Protect children? End school shootings? Concert shootings? Drive by shootings?
Would it really make us miserable to know our children are secure when they are at school?
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The boys are back in Florida and Arizona. (I am still not used to Arizona Spring Training.) Of all the professional sports, baseball may be the only one where the word “boys” still applies. Football is a sport of behemoths. Basketball a game of giants. Hockey a sport of bruisers. But baseball? Baseball is still a game of boys. Yes, a game for very wealthy boys, but boys just the same.
Like so many many boys raised in small town America, I grew up playing baseball. You didn’t have to be big. You didn’t have to be fast. You didn’t have to be strong. All you needed was a ball, a bat and and glove. If you didn’t have one or all of them, you could still play. Sharing was not a big deal on the baseball field.
We played baseball all the time, or so it seems in my hazy memory. There was an empty lot across the street from the house in which I grew up. There were two backstops there, so two games could be played at the same time. We played in the morning. Took a short lunch break. Played in the afternoon. Another short break for supper. And then we were back out there until it was too dark to see the ball.
Unlike so many other childhood activities, baseball has never lost its attraction for me. I don’t follow it as closely as I once did, but I almost always check to see how the Twins have done. Or the Reds. Or Cleveland. Or the Yankees. Unlike with Gopher football, I have found it easier to change baseball loyalties as I have moved from place to place.
Like the church, baseball is faced with a cultural crisis. It’s not as popular as it once was. There are empty seats in the stadiums. Interest has wained among young people. Football and basketball have become the spectator sports de jour. Soccer has become the year round game for our children and youth.
And just as church leaders have struggled to stem the growing tide of disinterest, so baseball executives have struggled to attract new devotees. The tweaking has begun. Popular music fills our churches and blares between innings at ball games. Special events are designed to to attract people to the pew or game, encouraging fans to stay for the concert or fireworks. More emphasis has been placed on the stars and the “long ball” has become more valued than the bunt.
The beauty of baseball is in its finesse and intricacy. The beauty of church is much the same. There is beauty in positioning the players to maximize their effectiveness. There are always errors and losses. But there is nothing quite like a pitcher’s dual or a finely crafted worship service.
Perhaps it is serendipitous that Lent and Spring Training are both upon us, for both are times for trying new things and honing the basics.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
On Sunday, I had a phone call from Russia. I didn’t answer it. I know I don’t know any Russians, nor do I think I know anyone traveling in Russia. I imagine you’re like me, and if your cellphone indicates an incoming call from a number with which you are not familiar, you don’t answer. I assume that if it is important they’ll leave a message. While annoying, those calls don’t bother me much.
But a call from Russia, now that bothers me. No, there was no message, but that didn’t mean that my imagination didn’t run wild. I use mobile communication tools. I shop online. I’m certain my information is out there someplace, where someone with a modicum of cyber ability can ascertain it. And the fact that it was Russia! Russia and Russian cyber specialists are in the news everyday. Hacks have been discovered. An election was targeted. Indictments have been issued. My phone has been called.
I know that I am not very important. Have no significance on the world’s stage. Am not worth a hackers attack. But, I don’t know if someone can gain access to the data on a phone simply by dialing the number? Should I open it? Should I delete it? Should I forget it it? Should I not worry about it? Too late.
I think most of us take too much for granted. We think that can never happen to us (whatever “that” may be). We trust others; people and companies we know little or nothing about to safeguard our personal information. We don’t take ownership of our own security.
It is my suspicion that many, if not most of us do the same with our spiritual lives. We don’t think (nor know) very much about it. We trust our spiritual health and wellbeing to others: family or friends, organizations or churches. We may go there. Consider ourselves part of the “club.” Even share our vital stories. But when a “foreign call” arrives, all we have are questions – one’s we can’t answer. We can’t answer them because we have never taken ownership of our spiritual lives. We just go along living every day as naive about that part of our lives as we are about our cyber lives.
Lent can not cure such a malady, but it can be a jumping off point for challenging ourselves to be more in tune to our spirits. More engaged in shaping and developing them. More aware of the need for there to be consistency both in our what we hold as truth and how we have arrived at such a place of understanding.
We’re less than a week into Lent and it’s never too late to take ownership of one’s spirit.
Monday, February 19, 2018
73 degrees! The thermometer in my car reads 73 degrees! In February. During Lent. Something is askew. Not right. Incomprehensible. But life can be like that. It can be filled with warm fuzzies when it should be laden with lumps of coal. It can be warm and inviting when winter’s wind should blow.
I spent that last few days in Westlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As you likely know, Jennifer’s (and sister Denise’s) mother, Penny, died on Friday night. On the one hand it was expected. The doctor told us that when life support was removed, death would soon follow. On the other hand, when we awoke last Monday, none of us thought Penny would die anytime soon. She had spent the prior weekend with Jenn and me at the Kentucky Regional Men’s Chorus retreat. We stayed in the same cabin. We shared meals. She watched rehearsals. She and husband, Bill, came to the worship/performance in Frankfort. She drove down and back.
This should have been a real Lenten experience. There should have been regrets and remorse. The tears should have drowned the laughter. The sense of loss should have enveloped any sense of joy. But there we were, standing around her hospital bed, listening to the newest member of the family, her daytime nurse, Stacy, regale us with stories of her family’s foibles as we shared our crazy family stories with her. The air was filled with bubbles – yes bubbles. Dave and Denise had made a stop at a Dollar Store and picked up five or six bottles bubbles. You see, Penny loved bubbles and bubbles were everywhere. Landing on her bed. Resting or her forehead. Making the floor slick. Oh, there were tears too, but the bubbles clearly had them outnumbered.
I know I have quoted this hymn in one of my previous postings, so please forgive my indulgence. The poem and music are both by Natalie Sleeth. The title: In the Build There is a Flower.
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise; butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In the end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
And there were bubbles during Lent!
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Lent can be a time of cleaning out the things in our lives which either no longer fit or we no longer need. Once upon a time they were shiny and new. Important. Necessary. Bright. Creative. But as our lives have changed, these valuables have lost their importance and meaning. Still, we continue to hang onto them, perhaps packing them away or perhaps hanging them on a wall as reminder of what at one time mattered. The problem, of coarse, is that such hoarding leaves little room for the changes which inevitably take place on one’s life journey.
Spiritual. Psychic. Professional. Familial. Physical. What once worked, no longer works. What once was urgent, no longer holds urgency. Life has changed but we are unable to let go, so we never move forward. Like the parking brake on a car, if you drive with it on, you either get no place fast or else you burn up the brake in a cloud of nauseous smoke.
It helps, I think, to have a companion or two to help with the garbage disposal. It’s hard work to do alone. Having companions helps us in our task of sorting. They can help us remember and celebrate these things we no longer need. They share in the story telling. They help us dream of the road ahead. Sometimes they are blest recipients of hand-me-downs. Sometimes they help us loosen the grip of the unnecessary clutter. Sometimes they clip the zip-ties. Sometimes they help us recognize we aren’t done with “it” yet.
Who are the companions who can help you this Lent? Who will be honest? Who has the wisdom you need? Who do you respect? To whom will you turn?
As strange as it may sound, I think one of the Church’s purposes is to be a dumping ground for such clutter. Companions can be found at church and Lent is the perfect season for such sorting.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Waiting is never easy. Sitting in hospital rooms is a big part of pastoral ministry. And frankly, it’s tiring work. Advent is all about waiting. Lent less so. Still, waiting is a daily experience for all of us. Waiting in line. Waiting at red lights. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting to go home.
In the world in which we live, we have filled waiting with all kinds of stuff. Talking (on cellphones). Playing games (on cellphones). Reading (on cellphones). Checking the news (on cellphones). Making stock trades (on cellphones). These activities do make the time go by more quickly, but I wonder if we haven’t lost something filling every empty space with some distraction?
All such distractions keep us from being aware of what is going on around us. We don’t live in the moment. We don’t interact with others around us. We become cocooned in our own little world.
I wonder, do you think such distracted living serves as an incubator for the individualism and divisiveness that is infecting our nation? Would we be more civil and understanding if we waited, living fully in the moment? Would the conversations we miss out on, bridge the many chasms in our union?
Being present, truly present, is the greatest gift we can give. Our presence matters. Our mindfulness matters. Our attentiveness matters.
Choosing to be distracted matters too. It matters to peace and unity. It matters to justice and equality. It matters to community and civility. Choosing to be absent is selfish and adds to the fissures that are shaking the foundations of not only this nation, but every nation in the entire world. If we ignore others, they will surely ignore us too.
We need to allow this Lenten season to weed out distractions and plant us firmly in each and every moment of each and every day.
(In case you’re wondering, I am a bit distracted!)
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Lent is a time of personal introspection. This year at least after the events of yesterday, it seems to me that it might be time for some cultural introspection. There are personal feelings, personal faults, but those are not the extent of the problems in our world today. In light of another mass murder in a public school, it seems to me that it might be time to allow our Lenten reflection to move beyond personal to societal; to our societies use of weapons on one another.
Most of you know that I taught high school choral music for 11 years before going to Seminary. I loved my years at Saint Anthony Village high school. I worked with wonderful students. I had great colleagues. We had a supportive administration. One concert night, a student showed up flashing a handgun. Perhaps he was just showing off, but he frightened a couple students enough for them to go to their parents and tell them that this young man was threatening to shoot me. They reported it to the police. After the concert when I was home relaxing I had a knock on the front door. When I answered the door there were two police officers standing there. They inquired as to whether or not I knew a certain individual. When I answered in the affirmative, they informed me that this individual had threatened to kill me. They also informed me that because of this there would be a police car out in front of the house that night.
In the morning when I got up and went to school I was met in the parking lot by the school principal. He escorted me to his office and informed me that they were staking out this student’s locker so that when he came to school the police would arrest him and remove him from the premises. They had already searched his locker and found the handgun. When he arrived at school he was arrested and taken away.
I tell the story primarily to remind us that gun violence in our schools is not new. However, it is never acceptable and has become all too frequent. As I listened to the “talking heads” today, there was already an unacceptable feeling they once again, nothing would change. No new regulations. No increase in funds for school safety. No systematic changes would be made. In fact, they claimed, the system has been hijacked and and without a massive overhaul, nothing can be done.
Sometimes life gets in the way of life, but sometimes even death is unable to get in the way of life. The old medieval prayer still rings true, if we would only listen: in the midst of life we are in death. And friends, we are dying.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Lent is not starting off as I would have liked. Rather than imposing ashes on the foreheads or palms of the people at FCC, I will spend the evening drinking fluids and hoping the flu will soon be a thing of the past. I’m not seeking sympathy, just being reminded that sometimes life gets in the way of life.
Sometimes, it is much worse than getting the flu virus. Jennifer is in Cleveland. Her mother fell and hit her head causing a brain bleed. Penny is in critical condition. We all are waiting anxiously for an update.
Therefore, even though I am committed to writing Monday thru Saturday during Lent, I am not sure what I can say today. Sometimes life gets in the way of life.
Ashes have long been a symbol of mourning, desperation, repentance and destruction. They are the result of burning. They are a sign of going through a fire. All of us have gone through difficulties, times when we were not certain we would make it through unscathed. Truthfully, we never make it through unscathed. We always get burned. They always leave scabs. We always carry ashes on our foreheads.
There is a tendency among many of us to pick at those scabs, keeping them open and oozing. Even though we made it through, we don’t believe we deserve to be whole again. Instead of gratitude and pride, we hold on to guilt and shame. If Lent/ashes can do anything for us, it can help us turn scabs into scars. It can help us leave the past in the past. It can turn scars into beauty marks. It can bring hope where hope seems impossible. It can be a balm when life gets in the way of life.